Monster Mash: Putting a Stop to Too-Big Houses Stuart Meck, FAICP, PP Faculty Fellow and Director of the Center for Government Services Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick Dwight H. Merriam, FAICP, CRE Robinson & Cole, LLP Hartford, CT International Municipal Lawyers Association Omni-Shoreham Hotel Washington, DC April 23, 2007

What is a “teardown”? •

Definition: Destroying an existing structure to build another Occurs in an existing neighborhood, where the too-big house is out of scale with its neighbors Center for Government Services | Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy | Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Where is it occurring? • Inner-ring suburbs and central cities • Where housing stock is sound, but possibly dated • Where the neighborhood character has been considered desirable for some time

Center for Government Services | Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy | Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

What’s causing teardowns? •

Vacant land is not available where people want it due to factors of: – Community amenities – Commuting cost & time

What’s causing teardowns? •

Value of lot exceeds value of improvement – Likely to be 50 percent or more of value of entire property

What’s causing teardowns? •

People want more in their homes – – – – –

Walk-in pantry / commercial fixtures full bathrooms / walk-in closets 3+ car garage 10’ ceiling heights home offices / media rooms

• Average house size – 1987: 1,900 sq. feet – 2001: 2,300 sq. feet – 2005: 2,434 sq. feet

• In N.E, average house size was 2,556 in 2005

What’s causing teardowns? •

The financial systems are in place to encourage larger homes – – – –

Accumulated wealth Low interest rates Mortgage interest deduction New mortgage instruments

What happens next? •

Eventually, it becomes a political issue –

It’s my property, it’s my castle

Is it progress?

Is it an opportunity?

Is it detracting?

Is it a threat?

It’s out of scale and it’s out of character

Who’s happy? •

People buying in

People selling out

Short-term investors



Tax assessors

Who’s unhappy? •

Long-term residents

People not buying or selling

Residents who rue loss of character / scale

Neighbors to “bulk-ups”

Aestheticians/historic preservationists

The big question • “What constitutes an appropriate house in terms of building and lot size, context within the neighborhood, or other objective measurements?” – Terry Szold, “Mansionization and its Discontents,” Journal of the American Planning Association (2005)

Approaches • Design manuals • Historic preservation • Amendment of development standards • New zoning code; form-based code • Other

Design manuals • •

Design manuals Pattern books

• Advantages – Non-confrontational – Non-intrusive – Can be unifying in vision

• Disadvantages – Relies on good will – May have little impact

Historic preservation designation in zoning ordinance • •

• Must be based on Authorized by historic preservation MLUL plan element Must provide • Requires individual “design criteria approvals and guidelines” in • Identification of zoning ordinance criteria up front • Can be confrontational

Amendment of development standards • • • • •

Setback Building or lot coverage Building height Floor area ratio Building volume ratio

• Advantages – Can be precise – Impartial – Can be non-confrontational

• Disadvantages – Standard may not be appropriate in every instance – May have little impact if the standard is not right – Tend to adopt and forget

Lot setbacks •

Lot setbacks: original zoning control for bulk

• Advantages – Establishes “character” from street frontage – Controls how close two buildings can be

• Disadvantages – Crude 2D measure that ignores height – How to deal with overhangs

Setbacks—Daylight plane restrictions •

• •

A three-dimensional plane that describes the building envelope that the residence must fit within Reduces building mass and projections May vary by zoning district

Example of Setback Planes

Source: City of Austin, TX

Building or lot coverage ratio •

• Advantage Percentage or – Can address, in some ratio of the form, maximum building coverage impervious surface to lot area • Disadvantage – Fails to deal with the vertical dimension

Building height •

From – –

Lowest grade Average grade

From – –

Existing grade Finished grade

Building height •

To – – –

top of ridge midpoint of roof

Building height •

Keep your stories straight – –

basements / cellars attics • • •

hip / gable gambrel salt box

Floor area ratio •

• Advantage Ratio of total – Takes multiple floors building floor area into account to area of the site – Uses floors as a surrogate for height

• Disadvantage – Can never be completely accurate because of variations in height of floors

Floor area ratio •

Definition – –

exclusions (attic?) bonuses (garage?)

Building volume ratio •

BVR: volume indicator that requires measuring the entire volume of the building above finished grade, or the visible portion of the building

Building volume ratio • BVR = BV/10/LA Where BV is building volume, LA is lot area, and “10” is average height of floor

Building volume ratio •

Advantages – Accounts for basements, attics, cathedral ceilings, and higher floor-toceiling heights – Flexible

• Disadvantage – May require computeraided design software to calculate

Form-based codes • Address the relationship between – Building faces and the public realm – Form and mass of buildings in relationship to one another – The scale and types of streets and blocks

Form-based Codes • Keyed to a regulating plan that designates the appropriate form and scale • Lesser focus on land use • Comprehensive • Favored by New Urbanists • Lots of measurements involved

Form-based Codes •

Requires – Existing conditions analysis – Charrette – Regulating plan – Urban standards – Architectural standards (as necessary)

Other approaches • •

Demolition delay—requires public notice, delay prior to demolition Moratorium—imposed on all residential additions of a certain size or percentage relationship to existing building until new regulatory approach can be devised

Legal issues •

Constitutional – – – –

Taking Procedural due process Substantive due process Equal protection

Statutory limitations

Legal issues •

Administrative – Creation of nonconformities – Adjudicatory relief – Variances

Legal Issues

Summary: The Big Objectives • •

Balance concerns about neighborhood impact and privacy with property rights Create regulations that, when applied, do not preclude modest renovations, additions by homeowners Ensure that when new guidelines are implemented, older homes do not become nonconforming

Sources •

Glen Chalder, AICP, “Size Matters,” PowerPoint Presentation, New England APA Conference (November 10, 2005) (materials used by permission). Lane Kendig, Too Big, Boring, or Ugly: Planning and Design Tools to Combat Monotony, the Too-big House, and Teardowns, Planning Advisory Service Report 523 (American Planning Association 2004). Terry S. Szold, “Mansionization and Its Discontents: Planners and the Challenge of Regulation Monster Homes,” Journal of the American Planning Association 71(2) (Spring 2005): 182-202. Jack L. Nasar, Jennifer S. Evans-Cowley, and Vicente Mantero, “McMansions: The extent and regulation of super-sized houses,” paper submitted to the Journal of Urban Design (June 2006).

The End

Center for Government Services | Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy | Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Monster Mash -

Apr 23, 2007 - build another. • Occurs in an existing neighborhood, ... It's my property, it's my castle. It's out of scale and ... building floor area to area of the site.

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